“Who will save the children?!”
This simple question is producing conflicting answers around the world. In the United States, laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act [“COPPA] and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA] with Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment [“PPRA”] create a web of regulations designed to force businesses and educational institutions to protect the privacy of children’s information online and in school settings. In Europe, there is little legislation dedicated specifically to minors, which can produce bizarre policy decisions by legal authorities.
Parents vs. Governments
The EU and the United States take a different view of the child-parent relationship from a legal perspective. In the U.S., parents are given authority to make decisions on behalf of their children. In some member states of the European Union, the government steps in for the parents.
You throw a birthday party for your 8-year-old daughter. She invites 15 friends, and a pleasant day is had by all. You post pictures of the party on Facebook a few days later so family members can view the festivities. The United States places no restrictions on posting such content. Parents are assumed to have the best interest of their children in mind and will act appropriately when posting content on the web.
France takes an entirely different view of the matter. According to French authorities, you violate French privacy law when posting images of children online without their express consent. The law makes no exception for parents or the age of the child in question. To top matters off, violations carry penalties of up to a year in prison and the equivalent of a $50,000 fine. The French appear intent on enforcing the law; publishing warnings directed at parents.
Why take this position? Many commentators point to concerns with pedophiles. Perhaps, but it’s hard to see much of a credible connection given parents are posting the images, not the children themselves. Are the pedophiles going to ask parents for a playdate? In theory, a pedophile could view a child on Facebook, and then work to locate the child offline. Such efforts would almost assuredly represent a small sliver of the predator cases we see today.
French authorities tend to speak about online threats in politically correct, vague terms. Dig into these statements, and you quickly realize there is a more mundane concern at issue. The French are concerned parents may post images of their children that are embarrassing. While junior may not be all that happy mom posted a picture of him in his Chewbacca suit on Facebook when he was 11, do we need to create a law against the practice? I think not.
Who will save the children? The French have apparently decided parents are not the answer.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.